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Q: Since coming out, discovering feminism, and meeting my girlfriend, I’ve worked hard to learn how to love my body and avoid being ashamed of my desires. For the last year or so, I’ve been super proud of my ladyparts and my sexuality and what my body can do, becoming a pretty outspoken sex-positive person. However, for the last 5-6 months I’ve gotten recurrent yeast infections (same day each month, on the dot) and it’s hard to feel excited and sexy when my vag is burning. I’ve tried every over-the-counter product, every home remedy, and every lifestyle and diet change, Diflucan prescription–nothing works. I’m going to the doctor soon, but in the meantime, I miss feeling confident in my body and sexuality. I would love any tips to boost my confidence and continue my sex-fiendish-ways during the week out of every month that I feel horrible, disgusting, unattractive, and yeasty. Please don’t tell me to eat plain yogurt, take vinegar baths, talk to a gyno, stuff garlic up there, have my gf brush her teeth before oral, try cranberry juice, try yoga, buy Monistat, wear only cotton, sleep naked, blow dry my vulva after showers, boil my towels, take probiotics, avoid scented soap or powder, and use condoms on my [100% silicone] toys or vegan hypoallergenic non-flavored lube – I already have tried all those things. The physical problem is something I’m consulting my doctor about after these treatment failures. This is more of an emotional, sexual and body-confidence problem. I couldn’t think of a better place to ask.
A: Hello, radiant sunflower. How are you doing today? Are you wearing loose-fitting underoos and pants? Are you managing the itch? In all seriousness though, I’ve been there. In fact, as you may have heard, a lot of us in the Autostraddle family sympathize with your situation. I had a recurring yeast issue for about a year and it happened, of course, at the very beginning of a very sexy relationship (also my current relationship). Surprisingly, to me at the time, the constant presence of yeasty beasties did not put my partner off. It did mean we had to think ahead a bit about how to keep things safe and comfy, though.
Depending on how your body is responding, you may have an itching or burning sensation, a very tender and sore vulva, atypical discharge or odor. There are lots of ways that yeast declares its presence. And yeah, when your body does things that society has deemed gross or weird, (especially when it comes to our private parts, that we are already culturally shamed about) it can snuff out your sexual self esteem.
From a very young age, we all get the cultural message that our private parts are naughty. For people with vaginas this is especially true and the message is that vaginas are dirty, that they smell bad, that they are not to be touched, and that they do uncontrollably gross stuff like bleed. So it makes sense that when your vagina actually is doing something that makes you feel unclean, gross, and out of control, those feelings of shame and dirtiness can come rushing back.
First off, yeast infections are really, really, really common. 75% of people with vaginas will have one in their lifetime. Chronic yeast infections (defined as four or more in a year) are also pretty common. You are definitely not alone. It sounds like you have done lots of Googling and doctoring and treating and are working that out for yourself, so I won’t go into treatment or causes. I’m sure you have a lot of info already.
Let’s get down to business. The business of getting down to business with an itchy vag. It is actually very safe to do so as long as you are using barrier methods to protect your partner and are engaging in sex that feels good. You deserve to feel good. There is nothing gross about you. You just may need to change how you’re doing it during the week you have an infection.
Knowing that you are safe and sanitary, so you don’t give your infection to your partner, can go a long way to relaxing into sexual pleasure. Stock up on gloves, so your partner can change them as necessary and touch you without having to run to the bathroom to use antibacterial soap in between positions. Dental dams (or non-microwaveable saran wrap) are good to have on hand. I know a lot of people are like, eww, dental dams, but dental dams are great! And if you are self-conscious about smell or texture of discharge, they create a nice, clean barrier. Put lube directly on your genitals before applying a dental dam to make it feel “wetter” through the dam. If you are using toys or your partner has a penis that they use for sex, of course keep condoms on hand. You don’t want to give your yeast infection to your partner and, if you are using barrier methods for safer sex, you won’t have to worry about it and can just enjoy the moment.
Take your time more, if you are feeling self-conscious about sex with a yeast infection. Don’t assume that sex will feel the same or include the same activities as it does when you are yeast-free. Before you get into bed, explain to your partner what is off limits or what you want to try, how you want to approach sex. Maybe you don’t want your genitals touched at all. Maybe you don’t plan to get off and just want to focus on your partner’s pleasure. Maybe there are certain things you typically do that are painful and you want to modify them. Take a lot of time warming up, getting into the mood. Sex, in general, and especially when you are having vaginal discomfort, will feel a lot better if you are wet and turned on before you get started.
So let’s talk about things to try in bed. Obviously, a yeast infection can make vaginal penetration uncomfortable or even painful. And, of course, if penetration doesn’t feel good, your partner can still engage in direct clitoral stimulation with fingers or tongue (with a dental dam). However, if you want the feeling of penetration, but the toys or things you enjoy (like fisting) are too intense with a yeast infection, try using something smaller. Your partner’s hands, covered with a glove, can feel really great. With fingers, there is a lot more control over depth, pressure, girth, etc. A gloved hand also feels really nice and slippery when lubricated and could even be soothing to your burning itch. Of course, stop if it doesn’t feel good.
If penetrative sex is too uncomfortable, physically or emotionally, you can do lots of other sexy stuff with a partner. One thing that we did when I was having recurring and painful infection issues was a sexy photo shoot with me as the subject and my partner as the photographer. I actually just came across these NSFW photos in a box this past weekend and I still love them. If you aren’t having the body confidence that you’d usually have, wearing your favorite sexy undergarments (or not) and posing for your partner can be really validating and fun. And you’ll have some sexy boudoir photos! Don’t assume that it will lead to sex. Don’t worry about sex. Just have fun together, snap some sexy pics, and see where it goes.
The same goes for role-playing or for engaging in kinky play that doesn’t involve penetrative sex. If you like a good spanking, go for it! If you’d like to do a role play where you focus on servicing your partner, that could be really fun and sexy. A sexy scene doesn’t have to end with sex and if you do want to get off, but don’t want to be touched, there are other ways.
If being touched by your partner while you have a yeast infection makes you squirmish, but you want to get off with them, you could engage in mutual masturbation, watching each other get yourselves off. Obviously, this can be totally hot. Or you could ask your partner to do what I call “assisted masturbation.” This is like mutual masturbation in that only you are touching your genitals, but your partner can touch you anywhere above the waist in ways that turn you on. They can kiss you, nibble your neck, pull your hair, whisper in your ear, spank you, dry hump you from behind, whatever helps you get turned on. The sexual focus is 100% on you. Then, if your partner wants, you can return the favor by getting them off or helping them get off.
Lastly, don’t forget about the butt. When your vulva is sensitive, it can be a great time to have fantastic anal sex. Or play with toys like safe butt plugs.
I hope this gives you some ideas to make your itchy week a little hotter and not in a burning painful way. At the end of the day, it all comes down to you deciding and believing that you are still sexy when you have a yeast infection. And if you decide that you really just don’t want to have sex that week, well that is OK, too. You’re not a bad feminist or bad queer girl for not wanting to do it all day, every day. You are a sexy, attractive, and fantastic person with a vagina that itches sometimes (which is totally normal and common) and don’t let anyone tell you any differently.
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